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How to Use the Inc. 500 for Strategic Advantage – 1 August 29, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Dealing With Competitors.
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Every year Inc. magazine (www.inc.com) publishes a list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.  I’m going to put a stake in the ground here and say that it’s probably one of the most valuable databases of information you can find anywhere.  It contains a treasure-trove of information that can provide valuable insights on business strategy and tactics.  Unfortunately, this Inc. special issue probably spends more time on the shelf of most readers before it is quickly sent to the newspaper recycle pile.  For shame.  This is a list of 500 Big Dogz that are in the thick of executing on business strategies that are differentiating them from their baseline competitors. 

First, let’s look at what data is in this Inc. 500 issue.  Inc. has segmented companies in this list into broad but meaningful sectors like media, business services, construction, education, logistics, reatil, transportation, etc.  If you own a business, more than likely you’ll find a sector that covers you business. 

Finding and reviewing your sector is a great place to start with this publication. 

  •  What are some of these high-growth companies in your sector doing strategically and/or tactically to position themselves as high-performers? 
  •  How are they creating differentiation that separates them from the crowd? 
  •  How can you find this kind of information? 

Well, what these Big Dogz are doing is not necessarily going to jump out at you when you review the list.  What they do give you is the CEO’s name and their website address.  At a minimum, it requires a careful and detailed review of their website.  Then, a call to the company if you want to find out more info.  This isn’t as hard as you think.  Most people are far more accessible than most people think.  You’d be surprised how much information you can get if you just pick up the phone and call the CEO directly.  Remember, these aren’t Fortune 500 CEO’s…these are CEO’s who are generally much more accessible.  In most cases, as long as they are not directly competing with you in market, you can usually find someone at the management level who’s willing to brag on their company a bit. 

My point is clear:  these Inc. 500 Big Dogz need to be studied.  Get yourself a copy (if you don’t already have one) while it’s still on the newsstands.  I use mine and keep it well dog-eared as a research tool.   It doesn’t make the recycle pile until the next one comes out.  More on this in my next blog posting.

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Generating alternatives August 26, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Keeping Your Customers, Solving Business Problems.
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p5130012.jpg Anyone ever ask you to deliver something that was impossible for you to deliver? The Big Dogz know that if you say no to a customer, they will just go someplace else! Here is an example — you sell custom made widgets for $2000 and it takes at least 2 days to make one.

 

A customer wants to buy one of your custom made widgets, wants it delivered by the end of the day tomorrow and wants to pay $1000 for it.  What happens if you say no? Correct, the customer will go to your competition and ask for the custom widget.

 

How likely is it that your competitor will give the customer the widget for $1000 in one day? Not likely since you are the premier widget maker in the world. Perhaps the customer will try another competitor and get another no. Finally the customer will ask “What does a custom widget cost and when can I get it?” What are the odds that customer will come back to you to buy the widget? Yes, between slim and none!

 

Here is what the Big Dogz think with respect to customer requests:

 

Never say no to a customer. You don’t always say yes, but you never say no!

 

The answer is to provide alternatives to the customer — alternatives that you can deliver. All requests from customers have three components; the Asset, the Limit and the Task. Sometimes these are labeled cost, speed and quality. In order to quickly generate alternatives, look at the three components of a request. Use the mnemonic ALT to help you remember the alternative generator:

  1. Asset — this is the cost or resource required what the customer wants to pay. In the example it is $1000.
  2. Limit — this is the time frame that the customer wants the request fulfilled. In the example it is today.
  3. Task — this is the deliverable the customer wants. In the example it is the custom widget.

 

The key to generating the alternatives is to hold 2 of the 3 components constant while changing the third.  To generate three options in the example, we would do the following:

 

Paraphrase the request to verify. You would like a custom widget today for $1000. Is that correct? Do not attempt to tell the customer that the custom widget takes 2 days and costs $2000. This explanation is just another way of saying no!

 

Offer alternative one — I can give you a standard widget by the end of the day tomorrow for $1000. Let the customer vent or say whatever they like. Do not try to persuade them. Wait for them to finish talking, and then move onto the next step.

Offer alternative two — I can give you custom widget for $1000 if we get a return. I do not know when one may become available. Again, let the customer talk. Wait till they are finished, and then move onto the next step.

 

Offer alternative three — I can give you a custom widget in two days for $2000. Wait for silence before saying the next question.

 

Which of these tree alternatives best fits your needs?

 

There is a good chance your customer will pick one of the three alternatives. If they don’t, at least you have given them a benchmark to consider when evaluating the competition. They may find your offers the best they get and it will increase the probability they will return to purchase the widget from you.

 

Offering alternatives is an effective way to keep your customer and to help manage their expectations about your products or services.

 

 

Inaction breeds poor behaviors August 14, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Changing behavior, Diagnosing performance problems, Effective meetings, Feedback, Getting what you want, Management, Management Principle, Performance issues.
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p5130012.jpg  Are people consistently violating your policies? The Big Dogz know that it could be caused by inaction. This is the principle the Big Dogz follow:

 

If you allow it, you encourage it!

 

Here is an example of allowing a behavior, resulting in encouragement. Let’s say you make an announcement that all team members will be in attendance and ready to participate at the scheduled start of team meetings. Rick casually strolls in 3 minutes late. You do not want to appear inflexible, tyrannical or picky, so you let it go. You have just sent the message to all the people who were on time, that it is OK to be late. You can be sure others will be late the next meeting and the degree of lateness will increase.

 

Overlooking an infraction because it is minor or because you don’t want to ruffle feathers is a sure fire way of seeing that action more frequently. This principle does not require you to make a big deal of the situation or to mete out Draconian punishment. A gentle reminder to the person that the behavior is not appropriate will work. Say something like this, “Rick, please make an effort to be on time to our meetings.” Don’t get into an argument about justification. If need be, have a conversation about his lateness outside the meeting.

 

If the reminder does not work, then you will need to escalate your actions. Most of time, people do not want to violate your policies. Give them the opportunity to learn! If you do not take action on this policy, people will start to think you are not serious about your other policies. Now, you can get into some serious trouble!

 

In the One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard talks about “Catching them doing something right.” That concept applies doubly in this situation. First, we want to catch them when an infraction occurs. Bring it to their attention, publicly if appropriate. Encourage them to behave in the way you want. When you see them make an effort to adhere to your policies, take the time to thank them. In the above scenario, I might give Rick a compliment for making the effort to be on time. At the next meeting, he is there, on time and ready to go. I would walk by him and in a low voice say “Thanks for being on time.” Again, no need to make a big deal of it since it may embarrass him.

 

Whatever actions you allow on your team, the more of those actions you can expect to see. Over the next 30 days, look around at your team and decide what actions you want to reduce or eliminate. Now start holding people accountable in a firm supportive way. The Big Dogz know you will see a significant improvement.

 

Please let me know how this suggestion has worked for you.

Time for Assertive Marketing, not Wimpy Cutbacks August 12, 2008

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy.
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I was speaking to a friend of mine who owns an AM/FM radio station.  He was talking to a manager  at a larger radio station who noted that in the last month, they lost more than $100,000 in ad revenue.  Sign of the times?  Yup.  Wimpy times.  Surely media venues like newspapers, radio, and TV stations are feeling the same effects of a pull back on marketing expenses to some degree.  I’ve always called this kind of response the ‘knee jerk’ reaction to whatever the economic conditions or the relative condition of a particular business is.  It’s so typical that it’s really not funny.  It’s actually sad.

If anyone feels the need to cut back on advertising, I have several questions for you:

1.  How effective were the advertising dollars you were spending anyway?  Couldn’t have been too effective if the end result is that whole chunks of ad dollars are cut in the name of the recession or slowdown, or whatever.  I’ve seen too many businesses immediately cut their advertising expenses when in fact, they should be figuring out ways to make it more effective and keep doing it.  You can make all the rational financial arguments you want but cutting back or cutting it completely might not be in your long term interests.  Now’s the time to put up an effective fight for preserving your current customer base and going after potential customers.  Sometimes it means moving you marketing/advertising budget to another kind of media that will be more effective than what you have been doing. Either way, invest time in figuring out how you can make your advertising budget go farther and do more to positively impact your business than just cutting it.  My ten year-old son can cut a budget.

2.  Are you cutting back just to save cash?  Just cutting back for the sake of preserving cash is a dead end game.  You save the cash but watch your sales go into the dumpster.  It’s like going to a gunfight and leaving the ammo at home to ‘preserve’ it.  Nice move; you’re dead.

3.  Are you even sure of what you need to do in order to make your marketing spend more effective?  My pet peeve is that everyone is a ‘marketing expert’ these days.  If you’re not sure of what options you have, hire someone with bonafide marketing/advertising expertise who can help you determine where to find your best next customers.  Relying on just your intuition and experience is like running a business in a house of mirrors:  You only see one dimension of what your marketing plan could be and it’s limited to you. 

4.  Have any of your advertising programs had a strong call to action?  If your campaign doesn’t 100% of the time require the customer or potential customer to do something, you’ve just wasted money.  An ad campaign that doesn’t have a special coupon, call-in offer, etc. that can motivate people to go to your store or pick up the phone to call you, is DOA. 

5.  Have you effectively linked your advertising campaigns so that they all support each other?  Your radio ad should support the same call to action your newsprint ad has.  So to with your website.  Everything should be linked and synchronized so that you can get the maximum benefit from whatever your marketing spend is.

Marketing success is based on how well you differentiate yourself from your competition.  By not drastically cutting back and re-engineering your marketing spend to utilize the kinds of media that will help you grow our business, even in a ‘recession’, you’ll be doing what you competition isn’t.  They’ll be cutting back and wimping out and you won’t.  They’ll call you crazy, but you call them all the way to the bank.

Be a mentor August 6, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Management.
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p5130012.jpg So, you want to be a mentor? The Big Dogz know that helping others succeed is one of the most powerful motivators for a leader. Let’s look at how you can become a mentor.

 

In my last entry, I talked about the characteristics of an effective mentor. Those characteristics apply to you as well. If you want to be a mentor, you need to know about the person and be honest with them. It is extremely important that you want to help this other person be successful.

 

The Big Dogz know how important it is to be a mentor; they do not waste time and energy waiting for people to ask them to be mentors. The Big Dogz take an active strategy — they seek out people to mentor.

 

  1. Take an honest self assessment. What skills do you have that could help someone else?
  2. Look around your world. Who do you see that shows promise in that skill area?
  3. Approach the person and offer to help them. It is not necessary that you use the word “mentor”. In some situations this may scare the person away from you. Let them know you think you could help them in an informal way. Also be aware of organization hierarchy; make sure you are not stepping on anyone’s toes. If you think you might be doing this, talk to their manager first.
  4. Identify the ‘rules of engagement’ with this person. Call me once a month for an hour. Send me emails. Here’s how we will interact when we meet. Go light at first. Some people may be intimidated by you or your position.
  5. Help the person construct a mentoring plan. Identify specific skills you will be working on with them.
  6. In a normal mentor relationship, it is up to the mentee to drive the schedule and topics. Since you are initiating this process, take the initiative for a few sessions to let the person see that you are serious about helping them. Usually, they will start to take control of the mentor process. If they don’t do that after 6 or 7 sessions, it probably means they are not getting enough out of the arrangement. You may need to look elsewhere for people to mentor.

 

The Big Dogz are always looking for people to mentor. They generally have 3-5 active mentoring situations taking place. One of the great things about mentoring others is that you build a foundation of knowledge about people’s capabilities and can tap into your mentees when you need help.

 

Another potentially huge payoff for mentoring a person is when they are successful and rise higher in the organization than you. You now have an ally in high places.

 

Start today! Look around your organization for potential people to mentor. There are huge benefits awaiting you.